Before I answer some questions, let’s start with a brief overview of my military experience. My military experience, as an LGBTQ+ person, was definitely challenging at certain times in my 12-year career. I remember enlisting in 2002, when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was an active policy, and having to sign a sheet of paper that said I wouldn’t engage in homosexual activity otherwise I would face a dishonorable discharge. About two years after enlisting, while assigned to a duty station in Texas, I began to be investigated and had to separate for the better part of a year in order to save myself. I knew I really wanted to keep serving though, so I contact my recruiter and got reassigned to a new unit, with a new job assignment. Going from a medical unit to a combat engineering unit was quite the change, but I found a lot more acceptance from the guys I was working with because all they cared about was how hard you worked. I say guys because, for several years, I was not only the only woman in my shop I was the only one who did my specific job in my type of unit: RED HORSE, the combat engineers of the Air Force. While I mostly found acceptance, there were always men who thought they could be the ones who would help me realize I was straight. I don’t think that’s an experience that specific to the military though.
When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, there was absolutely a sense of relief and joy, knowing that I could now be myself without being afraid for my job. However, just because the rules changed, doesn’t mean the mentality changed, especially from the “old guard.” It takes time for that to occur, so some levels of harassment and discrimination were still present for quite a while. There may even be those who experience it today; thinking especially of our trans brothers and sisters whose right to serve has been hotly debated over the last few years. There is this sense that in the military, race and other diversity qualifiers don’t matter, but that just isn’t true. Everyone comes from somewhere, and when they leave from the military, often return to those same places; some of which are very anti “other.” This is the reality of our country that we must acknowledge in order to find a way to truly come together as a nation.
How do I feel as a gay person in this community? And do I feel welcomed?
I feel welcome to a degree. The City of Reading has protections for the LGBTQ community but it’s the only municipality in Berks Co that does. While I’ve been able to find people who are accepting, it isn’t lost on me that members of the community can legally discriminate against me at will. That knowledge, in and of itself, is enough to take away some of the feelings of “being welcome.”
Do I think there are enough resources in this community to help the LGBTQ+ community?
No, there are not enough resources in our community to assist the LGBTQ+ community. While there are businesses and individuals who offer support, much-needed conversations around sex education, mental health, housing security, and other support programs are still sorely lacking. Several organizations, like the LGBT Center of Greater Reading, are working to expand these resources, but even in 2021, it feels like true access is elusive.
Are there enough events?
This is hard to gauge after being in a pandemic for over a year, but there are monthly drag brunches, which are a lot of fun, as well as weekly performances returning. More than events, I think what’s missing is an LGBT bar or club, a place where you don’t have to have a special event to know you can show up and be surrounded by community, be they LGBTQ+ or Allies.